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Thursday, December 09, 2021

When the past isn’t even past

A sticker glimpsed on a Delhi car that brings back memories of when terrorism was frighteningly close to home.

Written by Manvendra Singh |
June 6, 2011 1:22:31 am

It was a quintessential family mall-movie journey. Parents in front,feigning disciplinary moods,and children at the back,paying them lesser attention than they do class teachers. Stanley Ka Dabba being the purpose of the trip,as well as the subject of in-car conversations. South Delhi traffic rushed somewhat before the avoidable rush hour. So it was when the white car in front crawled to a halt at the traffic lights that I noticed the sticker on its back window.

Something that had been seen last year in Sirsa,Haryana,but now for the first time in Delhi. The surprise was not pleasant. Which then prompted the question to the children in the back seat,“who is that in the sticker on that car?”

After the guesswork amongst each other,the boy,13 going on 14,announced it was Mullah Omar. The girl,well into 11,asked,“isn’t that Osama bin Laden?” To which the boy said,“then why is he carrying a spear?” So the girl retorted,“have you seen Mullah Omar carrying a spear?” And this is how it went until the lights turned to green,and cars,and conversations,went their own way.

A little while later I asked if there was any conclusion on the sticker matter,but they’d given up by then,or lost interest,or both.

So when I told them it was Bhindranwale,the “who” question was quick,in unison,and loud. The mother then explained,and I wondered as I drove,and have been thinking since then,about India 2011,terror,images,and memory.

Is India in 2011 so different from the rage of the 1980s? Are Indians growing up without a local footnote on terror? Sure,there are events that hurt and disturb,foremost being Mumbai 2008. But are Indian children laying pegs on terror that are not based on local imagery? Are current benchmarks the global version of Terror Inc.? God forbid there be any local terrorism,but isn’t there something naïve about the visual of terror being limited to Mullah Omar or bin Laden? There is a disquiet somewhere,and which bothers deep down.

For someone growing up in Delhi of 1980s the spectre of terror was identifiable. It was lived,as an Indian phenomenon. It all began with the political manipulation of the Punjab countryside,so as to estrange the first Akali Dal government. As blatant as that. The cycle that was set in motion led the Government of India to shame itself beyond redemption.

The machinations led to the tragedy of “Operation Bluestar”,and the heartbreak that followed across the land. So when the man who allowed himself to be used by the manipulators,and in the process brought terror to Punjab,and in his name,to other parts of the country and beyond,returns as a car windshield sticker,there is certainly something to worry about.

There is something to worry about Punjab,with politics balanced similarly to when the whole process began. Then there is something to worry about those who make and carry the stickers. There is obviously a sense of alienation that continues to torment some to identify with an image that once embodied havoc,and terror. After all,what happened in Punjab,and in the name of Punjab,all that happened around the country and the world,wasn’t something that can simply be regarded as a bad dream. So when the visuals come up,even on an air-conditioned Delhi taxi,there is something amiss somewhere.

There is,after all,no logical reason for a child born into the 21st century to identify a brief player of the 1980s. That chapter has been closed by all accounts. But what happens when some hands reopen the pages,and paste the photos all over again? Do we revisit a period that doesn’t exist for many,or pretend it is closed for posterity? And is India,once again,sleeping in its belief that all is well?

The writer was a BJP MP in the 14th Lok Sabha. He is now editor of ‘Defence & Security Alert’

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